Gordon and Terri Southwick never dreamed their “retirement” would lead to new careers marked by long days and cold nights in the great outdoors.
When water’s so cold it stings the hands and the air is just as frigid, “spawning day” at Trask Salmon Hatchery is speedy and efficient.
They are fall chinook salmon, mottled black and grey that marks a biological clock that is reaching the end.
Each female salmon is ripe with 5,000 crimson-colored eggs.
The fish promise a future.
Now, the Southwick’s hold it in their hands and they do it with a smile.
“I always have fun outdoors,” laughed Terri Southwick. “I love the outdoors and this is our payback; trying to help out and it’s something anybody can do too.”
They may be retired but they refuse to call it quits!
The 70-somethings are guardians who volunteer with Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.
“Where others might be sitting inside and complaining,” noted Ron Rehn, state fish biologist, “Or they like to be armchair quarterbacks, but these folks are out there making a difference with hard work.”
Assistant hatchery manager, Jim Scar added. “They’re excited too! About everything! They always have a smile on their faces. In fact, I have never seen them without a smile on their faces. They are a breath of fresh air.”
Their “work” is more than just one sub-freezing morning at the hatchery. The spawning day is just the start for the Sotuhwicks!
The days really get started at a tiny private hatchery that’s located alongside a small creek that’s a tributary of the Miami River that feeds into the expansive Tillamook Bay.
There, the Southwicks take care of the salmon eggs that become the fish that anglers like to catch.
Terri and Gordon Southwick have run the operation since ‘96 when they stepped forward – fresh from their respective workplaces - to help a local fishing club.
“A year later everybody quit but us,” laughed Gordon Southwick.
Or perhaps they knew what the Southwicks later learned: that trees blow down, ice builds up and crystal clear streams can turn chocolate brown anytime the rain falls in buckets.
All of that can put their 100,000 eggs or fish at risk.
“The silt is one of the most detrimental things,” noted Terri Southwick. “If it’s too thick it prevents oxygen from getting into the eggs”
“Once we got the eggs,” added Gordon. “There’s no turning back! We must come here at least every other da, but if we have heavy rain or storms, we’re here every day.”
But the partners have taken to the work so well they recently hit a milestone: they’ve raised their one-millionth baby salmon.
That fish represented over one-third of the total chinook salmon fry production for the region.
Gordon modestly noted, “We never set out to do a million fish, it just turned out to be that way.”
It landed them national recognition: a conservation award, a trip to Washington DC and even a cash prize – which they poured back into the program to help cover costs.
At a time of life when most retirees reflect back on their lives, the Southwick’s look forward to more volunteer days in the great outdoors and perhaps a chance to raise two million salmon.
“We’re young enough and we’re healthy enough,” chuckled Gordon. “We can do things and we’re at the time of our lives that we can give back what we’ve been taking for so many years.”
“I’ll do it as long as I possibly can,” added Terri “For me, it’s a great enjoyment to be outdoors and working with the fish.”